The staff at Pleasant Hill Shaker Village just west of Lexington, Kentucky is very excited to be hosting EAIA’s 2016 Annual Meeting. They’ve put together special workshops, a behind the scenes tour of their collections and will allow EAIA members full access to all of the buildings housing their collection of wonderful Shaker furniture and artifacts during our visit there next May. This beautiful site is indeed located on a “pleasant hill” and is a delight to the senses.
The Second Great Awakening, often called the “Kentucky Revival” began in the late 18th century and extended into the early 19th century. The Shakers based in New Lebanon, New York, sent missionaries to the “western frontier” in 1805. By August of 1805, the missionaries had gathered a small group in Kentucky of adherents to the Shaker doctrines of Mother Ann Lee. In December of 1806, 44 converts to the Shaker faith signed a covenant agreeing to mutual support and the common ownership of property. They began living together on the 140 acre Elisha Thomas farm which became the nucleus of Pleasant Hill. By 1812, the village had grown to 4,369 acres and three communal families, East, Center, and West had been formed and a fourth family dwelling, North, was established for prospective converts.
Though initially poor, the Pleasant Hill Shakers were excellent farmers who made good use of their land and prospered. Their location adjacent to the Kentucky River allowed them to market their produce and products to multiple towns and villages. By 1816 they were traveling widely (even to New Orleans) to market their products. The Pleasant Hill Shakers made brooms, sold fruit, both dried and as preserves, raised and sold garden seeds and were widely known for their fine cattle, hogs, and sheep. By 1825, Pleasant Hill was a thriving community with stone and brick dwellings with glass windows (not all that common in 1825!) and stone sidewalks. By this time they also had a municipal water system, indoor pumps in their kitchens and horse driven laundry machinery.
Because Pleasant Hill was in Kentucky, the village experienced a lot of controversy and traffic from both Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War. Shakers were opposed to slavery and were committed to pacifism. The Shakers at Pleasant Hill had started buying and then freeing slaves as early as 1825. They were sympathetic to the Union, which made them targets of anger, vandalism and some property destruction by many of their neighbors who were Southern sympathizers. They fed thousands of soldiers from both sides, and cared for the wounded particularly after the Battle of Perryville.
After the Civil War, political and economic changes as well as internal strife depleted the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. Membership declined steadily. From its peak membership of almost 500, Pleasant Hill had only half that number by 1875. By 1900 the membership was down to 34. The Shaker community at Pleasant Hill was dissolved in 1910. The property changed hands several times and was used for a variety of purposes. The few remaining Shakers lived on the property until the last remaining Pleasant Hill Shaker, Mary Settles died in 1923. Following World War II, area residents showed renewed interest in the village. In 1962 a group of area residents led by Joseph Graves and Earl Wallace launched an effort to restore the property. By 1964 a non-profit corporation was formed and James Lowry Cogar who was the first curator of Colonial Williamsburg was chosen to oversee the restoration of Pleasant Hill.
Pleasant Hill Shaker Village has 34 restored buildings on the site and your accommodations will be in one of those restored buildings. The rooms have all the modern amenities and we’ll stay in those buildings during our meeting.
Our schedule of events will allow us to learn about Shaker culture, religion, architecture, and crafts. We will have the opportunity to try our hand at some Shaker crafts. There will be workshops on making Shaker whisk brooms, Shaker spirit drawings, and one on making a Shaker herb bag. We’ll also have the opportunity to learn about dry stone fencing. Pleasant Hill Shaker Village has miles of dry stone fencing and we’ll learn about this intricate and challenging skill from members of the staff at Shaker Village.
There will be daily introductory tours of the village, tours with an emphasis on Shaker architecture, and special presentations at the farm barn and gardens throughout our stay.
We’ll enjoy a relaxing ride aboard the Dixie Belle, Shaker Village’s 114-passenger riverboat and cruise the scenic Kentucky River palisades, along a stretch of river with high limestone cliffs and untouched natural beauty. This one hour narrated cruise will describe the river’s diverse ecosystem and the historical importance of the river to the Shakers. During the tour, the Dixie Belle ventures through the oldest exposed rock in Kentucky, and passes under High Bridge, an engineering marvel built in 1877. EAIA members Pam Howard and Gwenn Lasswell have begun to organize a Fiber Arts group in EAIA and they will host a get together during the meeting.
EAIA board member Ross Gibson will be doing a presentation entitled “Slate Roofing – A Brief History & a Hands-on Demonstration” on Saturday afternoon. Of course we’ll have our traditional ice cream social honoring first time attendees (this one will feature Shaker lemon pie), our Silent Auction and banquet. Tailgating will occur on Wednesday afternoon May 18th, and Tool Trading will be held as usual on Saturday morning. Our membership displays are an integral part of the EAIA Annual Meeting and this year’s theme is, “The Shaker Work Day – Tools That the Shakers Might Have Used on the Farm, in Their Homes and in Their Shops”.
In addition, EAIA members Mike Urness and his wife Sara of The Great Planes Trading Company (www.greatplanestrading.com) will be holding an antique tool auction in the Meadow View Barn at Pleasant Hill on Friday evening May 20th. Pleasant Hill is in the midst of an area known for its rich history, horse farms, civil war sites, bourbon production and multiple nearby museums and historic sites. There are plenty of antique shops in the area as well. So, start thinking about doing a display, and mark the dates on your calendar – May 18th through May 21st, 2016, so you can join us for a great Annual Meeting in Kentucky!
Co-hosts for the meeting are Denise and Rodney Richer and Paul and Eileen Van Pernis